After the recent visit of Armenia’s prime minister to Brussels, calls for an early start of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a peace treaty have again intensified. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan consistently insists that the parties must recognize each other’s territorial integrity; otherwise, it is threatening a new war against Armenia. Armenian authorities seem inclined to resign themselves to the “inevitable,” as evidenced by the prime minister’s statement about the calls of the international community to Armenia to “lower the bar on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh; otherwise, it will not be able to assist the Armenian side.” It is not entirely clear to what level the bar must be lowered, or who is specifically sending this message. It is also alarming that the fate of the OSCE Minsk Group as the only recognized international mediator is currently very vague. The premature decay of this structure consigns Artsakh’s right to self-determination, which had been a cornerstone of the negotiation process, to further uncertainty.
While the government’s statements are reduced to general proclamations regarding the need to ensure the security of Artsakh’s population, the opposition, based on the “spirit” of ongoing inconclusive talks, suspects that a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan presumptively involves the incorporation of what remains of Artsakh into Azerbaijan. Under such a scenario, the aggressor country becomes a “guarantor” of its victim’s security, rights, and freedoms. Meanwhile, it is assumed that in the remaining 3.5 years before the expiration of the November 2020 trilateral Statement, the outsourcing of Artsakh’s security to the Russian peacekeeping mission should ensure a certain level of tranquility and stability in the conflict zone. This means our task boils down to regular reminders to Russian peacekeepers of their “contractual obligations” arising from the trilateral Statement, which they have not always succeeded in upholding.
Particularly active in the post-war process since November 2020, is Charles Michel, President of the European Council. The collective West, interested in weakening Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus, would rather encourage Armenia to engage in the normalization of its relations promptly and comprehensively with Azerbaijan and Turkey.
During his visit to Yerevan on July 17, 2021, Michel reaffirmed the European Union’s pledge to provide Armenia with up to 2.6 billion euros in economic assistance over the next five years. Although this aid is not directly linked to the conclusion of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, its signing will significantly accelerate the allocation of this assistance.
Considering the country’s scope of institutional development, which determines transactional costs in the national economy, the injection of these funds will have a limited qualitative effect on the country’s socio-economic development. Still, it can mitigate the negative consequences of the likely contraction of the global economy and possibly boost the position of the leading party and its associates in the next elections.
In this context, some politicians question the historical expediency of Zartonk, a national awakening in 1988, and the struggle for the right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh, characterizing the past 34 years as lost for Armenia and Armenians. Their appeals are supported by “claims” that if it were not for the 34-year struggle for Karabakh, Armenia’s GDP today would be 4-5 times greater than the current one. Furthermore, the notion that the forthcoming settlement of Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish relations would ensure Armenia’s peaceful coexistence with its Turkic neighbors and rapid prosperity is consistently inculcated in public. Although the proposed models of interstate reconciliation are supposed to be achieved exclusively on terms imposed by those neighbors, the heralds of the concept of a “peaceful era in the region” prefer to avoid or camouflage it. In the meantime, very few question that such a “solution” will result in the exodus of Armenians from Artsakh and its final Nakhichevanization.
Doubtless, in the issue of a peace treaty between its two south Caucasian partners, very critical is the position of Moscow. Being deeply involved in the protracted conflict in Ukraine may somewhat deprive its attention of the Karabakh problem. To judge Moscow’s genuine views and intentions regarding the resolution of unresolved political issues along the borders of the former Soviet Union solely from its public statements is not entirely appropriate: a backstage view in diplomacy is sometimes more important. In the current geopolitical situation, Russia would instead prefer to avoid an explicit disagreement with the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem. Therefore, the Armenian negotiators must correctly capture the mood in the Kremlin.
Since the end of 2020, the security landscape in the region and beyond has been changing dramatically. Today, we are witnessing power politics played by the masters of the game, and Armenia must act accordingly. While the relations among the global powers grow more contentious, they may become less tolerant of ambiguity. It might affect the small states’ freedom of action, and the “moment of truth” may come for countries with limited sovereignty. Alliances and spheres of influence, not majority votes in international forums or heavy rhetorical investment like what Armenia witnessed during the 2020 Artsakh War, will define and govern nations’ behavior. Impulsive actions and amateur deal-making devoid of strategy, plan, and deep historical knowledge would lead to unsustainable outcomes. There may arise a need for an objective recalibration of our foreign policy.
One of the tasks of foreign policy is the optimal balance between security interests and development interests. The national interest underlying foreign policy lies in the sufficient protection of the country and the maximum assistance to its socio-economic development. The specific content of the national interest cannot be determined by a volitional act of one person or by the decision of a narrow circle of representatives of one party only. The discourse in which all significant political, business, social, and ideological groups of society should be involved at different levels—from parliament to business circles and civic society groups to professional communities, has to be encouraged. The opinion of the Diaspora, which Armenia perceives as its hinterland, a source of human, economic, political, and moral support, should also be taken into serious consideration. The domestic political circumstances dictate the broader dialogue on the Artsakh issue. While the government is trapped between its needs, wants, and promises, the opposition is struggling to come up with an alternative, capture the public imagination, and galvanize it into action.
Although the unfolding verbal duel can hardly be qualified as discourse, it nevertheless touches upon questions that threaten to shatter some beliefs that have dominated our national conscience since the collapse of the USSR. Тhe contradictions provoked by the consequences of the 2020 Artsakh War, highlighting, in particular, the problems associated with the future of Artsakh and prospects of the international recognition of the Genocide as the critical elements of the settlement of our relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, are an indication that our nation is entering a new phase in the obscure process of remodeling our identity. The public controversy precipitated by a “peaceful era in the region” is part of a larger conflict over Armenia’s collective memory, collective identity, and collective meaning.
The generation of politicians born shortly before or after the 1988 Karabakh Movement are shaped by conditions significantly different from those that molded the previous generation. While the former is tempted to conclude that the source of the contemporary problems for Armenia’s prosperity is Artsakh, the latter regarded the Karabakh issue as a defining moment in one’s life and the nation’s recent history. A central premise of the Karabakh Movement was the indisputable claim of Armenians to the historic land of Artsakh. And it is no coincidence that along with a commitment to the international recognition of the Genocide, it was incorporated into the Declaration of Independence.
What we are witnessing today is, in fact, an inept attempt to formulate an alternative to the paradigm of Zartonk, a national awakening, which even though naively sought to transform the Armenian people from a passive object of “unjust” historical processes into an acting subject whose sovereign decisions would maximally determine the course of its development. Therefore, the “pragmatic alternative” to the “idealistic vision” requires some clarification.
Realization of “pragmatic” policies may involve the actual review of the goals of the Declaration of Independence and implies an ultimate reshaping of the foundations of Armenian nation-building and structural elements of our national identity. The crux of success or failure as a society is to know which core values, interests, beliefs, myths, lasting traumas, and ancient animosities to hold on to and which to discard and replace with new ones when times change. Those societies that dare to make righteous choices at the right time succeed.
It appears that Armenia anticipates a “Machiavellian moment,” an instance when a new republic seriously encounters the challenge of sustaining the credibility of its ideals and commitments. One cannot rule out that we will have other Machiavellian moments in the future.